It’s barely 30 years since there was much more than a token Māori voice in the media. But the presence has been growing. And one of those whose presence and work has been felt and seen increasingly over the last 16 or so years is Bailey Mackey, a nondescript Ngāti Porou rugby player (so he says) and an enterprising broadcaster (which all of us have been observing). He’s one of many Māori and Pasifika now showing new ways of telling their stories.
And here he is, kicking off this kōrero by recounting his own story to Dale.
Kia ora, Dale. I’ll start with Mackey, my surname. James David Mackey was a whaler who came out from Durham, in England and landed in Gisborne, where he married a local woman known as Hera Te Hokokai or Hokokai Wharekawakawa.
That was six generations ago. They had Rawiri who then had Turei. Next generation it was George, then Henare. So that’s where the Mackey name came from.
There’s a lot of Mackeys up north and when, I was working at TV3, they made contact and told me we were related. I said: “Oh, nah. I’m from the East Coast — and anyway we have a different spelling.”
But they said: “No. James David had a brother who went up north. And he was at Takahiwai. A few from that family played league for Takahiwai Warriors, and they also were out at Matapouri, Ngātiwai.”
What about your first name, Bailey? Where did that come from?
I was named after my dad’s best friend at the time, Bailey Edwards, who was from Kaikohe. Bailey told me that he was born in Mitimiti and got his name from the doctor who delivered him. Dr Bailey. So that’s how I’ve come to have that name.
And then my middle name is Naru. It’s the nickname for my koro on my mum’s side. She’s Tūhoe, and my grandfather on that side was Anaru Tahi. But they shortened it to Naru, then my mum named me after him. And here I am, Bailey Naru Mackey.
Kia ora. Tell us a bit about your mum and dad. No doubt, they would’ve helped encourage you into reo and into appreciating and loving all things Māori. What did your old man and mum do?
I was brought up mostly on the East Coast. Mainly in Kaiti, by my dad’s Mackey family. And the biggest influence in my early life would’ve been my grandparents, especially G I Mackey. His full name was Henare Te Owai Mackey and he was a returned soldier from the 28th Battalion, C Company.
He was a man of the land. A fencer and a general farmhand. And my grandmother (Myra nee Kouka) was a seamstress. They were both native Ngāti Porou speakers of te reo.
My grandfather’s mother is Hariata Ngata — and her father, Hone Ngata, was Apirana Ngata’s older half-brother. So I guess we were kind of traditional Ngāti Porou loyalists, if you like. I guess “Tories” on my grandfather’s side.
And then my grandmother, who was a seamstress in a sewing factory in Gisborne, was obviously a unionist.
So, I had an introduction to politics at a young age because my grandparents, having breakfast at the kitchen table, would be arguing over the politics of the day in beautiful Ngāti Porou Māori. Arguing or laughing in te reo. It was beautiful. I cherish those memories.
My parents separated when I was about four. So, I didn’t have a whole lot to do with Mum’s side of the family.
But her parents lived in Tāneatua and they were from Tūhoe, Rūātoki and Ruatāhuna. I spent time with them, now and then, throughout my upbringing — and they had te reo on that side as well.
I was really lucky to have it around me. But I wasn’t an active speaker of te reo. It was there and it was their language, but, as one of the effects of colonisation, it was almost discouraged.
It wasn’t until I got to high school that I picked up te reo in earnest. I guess I already had those seeds inside me, so my learning was fast-tracked.
Was that at Gisborne Boys’ High?
Yeah. That’s where I went. I guess you could sum up my years there as lots of potential not really fulfilled. Or maybe it was fulfilled. I’m not sure.
But I just drifted through high school. I did have an incredible time there, though. Then I left and did kura kaupapa teachers’ training. Did a year and a half there. Realised teaching wasn’t my thing. Far too hard. And I then went to Auckland University and mucked around. I was probably a bit lost, to be honest.
Ended up moving back to the Coast and lived in Rangitukia. And there I found two things that would become the great love of my life outside my family. One was East Coast rugby and the other was Radio Ngāti Porou.
When I started playing for the Ngāti Porou East Coast rugby team, I wouldn’t say I was that good a rugby player or anything, but I did manage to go on that ride.
And I think that, at a time when I was searching for something — I didn’t know what — it gave me a sense of belonging and a sense of identity.
I grew up Ngāti Porou and proud of it. But, being part of that team solidified that feeling — and helped shape who I am.
Then there was the impact on me of working at Radio Ngāti Porou at the same time. So, when I look back at that period in my life, I can see how pivotal that was for me. That shaped the rest of my life to the point where I’m still able to live out my passions for both rugby and Ngāti Porou through what I do now.
Tell us about some of those people at Ngāti Porou radio who helped you become a broadcaster. And how important do you regard tribal radio in the role it plays in our Māori world?
Hugely so. I can’t comment on other iwi radio but I can see how Radio Ngāti Porou operates. It really is the heartbeat of the iwi. Radio is still the first means of community information such as tangi, rugby results, or just general community information. And in case of emergencies, it’s the platform that brings everyone together.
In those early days, Ngahiwi Apanui was my boss. He picked me up hitchhiking one day and took me into the radio station. He’s a good man, and I’m grateful for the opportunity he gave me.
Nicki Douglas was the programme director at that time, and she was really organised and thoughtful — whereas I was just cruising through life.
After my first radio show, everyone was like: “Wow! You have a real talent, a gift.” But I felt it was just something I was doing while I was playing rugby and just kinda living life as a 22- or 23-year-old. I wasn’t thinking of pursuing a broadcasting career at that stage.
There was a special appeal about radio though. And I had people like Kahu Waitoa showing how it can be done. What I find rewarding about radio is the intimacy. As a listener, you can feel like the announcer is having a one-on-one conversation with you. And, for me, that’s incredibly powerful.
Years before, when I was about 10, for a rugby prize, I got a little Pepsi can transistor radio. And when my grandfather sent me to bed, I’d listen to that radio under the blankets. I’d be listening to someone in a studio in Auckland. And, for a kid way off there, on the East Coast, that was mind-blowing.
I’m sure those nights were the first seeds in my broadcasting life — and they were the seeds that began to grow when I went on air at Radio Ngāti Porou.
Then, from there, I was fortunate enough to get a job at Te Karere. True story: I started the same day as Julian Wilcox. We were both interviewed for the one position and I’ll forever be grateful to Moari Stafford and Tini Molyneux because they saw something in both of us and effectively couldn’t decide between us.
Julian was incredible from the beginning. Like, I don’t know how I could even be in the same conversation as that guy. He was a broadcaster from the get-go. I was just fortunate that they took a punt on me as well.
What’s your best memory in your Ngāti Porou strip as a footballer? Where were you playing?
I was sort of a utility. Could play just about anywhere. But not big enough to be a forward in those days — and not strong enough either. And not quick enough to be a genuine back.
I’d sort of come into my own once the game was actually over. The third half was my specialty.
We had some highlights though. Like the 1999 third division grand final which was a wonderful occasion for our people because it was the first time we’d ever won that. It was an incredible ride, Dale. We went from 1997, when I don’t think we won any games at all — and then to ’98, when we won four games, the most ever in Ngāti Porou, East Coast history.
And, the following season, we won the whole thing by beating our arch-rivals, Poverty Bay, in the grand final. It was an unbelievable day, one of the most amazing in my life. There was like 7,000 people there in Ruatorea for the game.
What drives my love of rugby is that, when you get it right, it can be a mover of people. Some sports have that ability — and rugby definitely does. It’s a sport that can move Māori and the whole country.
One of the roles I have now is as a director on New Zealand Rugby. I get to live out a dream by having a say in some of the big decisions around the game.
And you’re still the president of East Coast Rugby?
Nah, I’m not. You have to give that up to be on the board of NZ Rugby. You can’t have any sort of affiliations with provincial unions. But this is a new experience for me and one where the tangata whenua are now playing a more influential role in shaping New Zealand rugby.
And I’m optimistic that we’re on the cusp of a new age where we’re at the table and sharing in the key decisions about the direction of our game.
Let’s turn again to the media. You’ve been a successful presenter in your own right, but I suspect that you were still a young man when you started looking more at the big picture of broadcasting. You were one of the youngest executive producers of a television network when, in about your late 20s, you picked up that role with Māori Television. What drove you along that path?
Well, on my very first day on Te Karere, I remember watching Julian in action — and, as we know, he’s as good a presenter as we’ve ever had. I was just blown away. And I realised that my future lay in producing because there was no way that I was going to get any traction if I was up against Jules.
So, I made a conscious decision, early on, about that. And I also gave some thought to where the influence and power lay, in telling stories.
Often, as a presenter or a TV reporter, you’re just the last link in the chain, and that didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to control the narrative and be influential in how that story was being told. And I could see that it was through producing.
And you’re right. I was probably only 27 or 28, when I was made executive producer of sport at Māori TV. And that was on the back of being a sports reporter on TV3 news.
We all had great pride in the opening of Māori Television and it’s still with us, although, like other broadcasting networks, it has its own challenges. But what were your hopes when the channel was launched?
If I’m to be perfectly honest, my hopes were pretty basic. Just that we wouldn’t be taken off air. Before its launch, they had a fairly dodgy past, which included a Canadian CEO, who later proved to be a fraud and ended up doing jail time.
And before that there was the pilot project, Aotearoa TV, and allegations of misspending. So, initially, it was just like: “Let’s try and keep this waka afloat.”
Then, as we got into it, we gained traction with programmes like Code. We also did free-to-air rugby league with Bartercard Cup games on Monday nights. I was able to try things like that.
We were able to do some cool things because we had an almost blank piece of paper to write that story on. Then I saw that we were gaining an audience and were bringing people across to te reo Māori.
I was probably in so deep with all my experimenting that I’m not sure that I had my eye on the bigger picture for the Māori media.
What I did have, though, was knowing that I was being allowed to hone my skills. I spent hundreds of hours in a studio, and out in the field. I wouldn’t have been able to have that kind of flexibility if I was somewhere else. So, I’m forever grateful that I had the good fortune to contribute in that way to Māori TV.
You’re ambitious and you’ve got big kahunas because you said: “Well I’m gonna set up my own production house.” What were some of the challenges for you when you decided to go out on your own?
When I was at Māori TV, all the big-rating shows were sport, and I probably had an over-inflated opinion of my ability. So I went out and threw all these balls in the air, thinking that all of them were gonna land just right.
But, in the end, that wasn’t what happened. And I had to eat humble pie, go back to Māori TV and work as a producer in the weekend.
It wasn’t a cool time. I remember thinking that. Then I was offered a lifeline and ended up working with Julie Christie and Black Inc Media.
That led to us going on a bit of a run and producing about 20 series which gave me an insight into consistent, primetime producing — and also an insight into the business side of it because I had a front seat watching Julie running Eyeworks.
I left that company in 2013 and then started Pango in 2014. We’ve been producing programmes since then.
You’ve worked with some fantastic people over the years, and now you employ a whole lot of our top presenters and producers. But you’re also doing a lot of board work. Because of the experience you now have, you’ve been seconded to a whole range of boards. What do you make of that kind work?
Well, I’ve come to understand that I have a unique set of skills. I have a community background and I’ve been able to add commercial acumen because I’ve been in the thick of governance for the best part of five years now. It’s fascinating, and I really enjoy it.
But it all speaks to a higher truth, which for me is wanting to change the world through Māori storytelling. I want to be working on projects with New Zealand Rugby that speaks to that.
I’m also on the board of Ngāti Porou Group Holdings. So I think it all speaks to what I’m really about, which is helping to change the world and make things better for our children and mokos.
You’ve done a whole lot of different productions over the years, Bailey. What stands out for you? What are you most proud of?
I don’t wanna single them out but, if I look back to the early days, I’d say Code was a biggie. It resounded and kinda sat alongside all these cool shows. We won a TV award as best sports show in New Zealand. I think it was the first award that Māori TV had won. So that was pivotal for us.
The GC was important for different reasons. I learned a lot because it was controversial. But it also taught me a lot about the audience and how to make shows like that.
There was also Sidewalk Karaoke which was a big hit for Māori TV. Then Piri’s Tiki Tour. And Matchfit, which was a big success for TV3 last year. Then, just recently, National Treasures.
Overall, I’ve probably made 40 shows. And one that I shouldn’t be forgetting is All or Nothing, a programme I made for Amazon in 2018, about the All Blacks.
I won’t say they’re my favourites, but they represent the different milestones in my career. I love them all. But I’ve gotta get a few more in before my expiry date comes along.
You’ve also got some pressure on your shoulders in your role as one of Willie Jackson’s Māori media advisory panel. There’s a host of questions for you and the six others on the panel to answer, in the course of reforming the media. And just one of those questions is whether our tribal leaders are leaving the reforms too much to the Crown.
That’s a tough one because the Crown has a Treaty responsibility (in Article Two) to protect te reo as a taonga. So I think this conversation needs to be had against the context of the Crown’s obligations.
But, in terms of the involvement of tribal leadership, I can speak only of Ngāti Porou where Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Porou is the licence holder of Radio Ngāti Porou — and, in my view, Radio Ngāti Porou is an absolute taonga of the tribe.
It may be that with Ngāti Porou Group Holdings there’s been an over concentration on the primary sector when it comes to investment. And now, having a media entrepreneur like me on the board, I’ll probably bring that perspective to the table.
I haven’t watched closely what other iwi are doing, but I would say: “Watch this space.”
I know that you’re also an excellent diver, and I’ve enjoyed some of the spoils of your efforts. The kaimoana is a lovely East Coast taonga, isn’t it?
Yeah. I’ve dived all around Aotearoa. But I especially love diving at home. Ngāti Porou are farming people and we have a lot of hunters — and quite a few people fish. But we’re not as good at diving.
To be fair, we’ve suffered a lot of erosion, so water clarity often isn’t the best. But when it’s on, it’s on. And our kina and our koura are massive. I started diving when I was young because I love kaimoana and the easiest way to get it in abundance was to go and get it yourself.
And these days it’s also one time when I can’t be on my phone because I’m underwater.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
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